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The Jester of Buckingham bringing Middle Ages Silliness back to Britain.

Monday, March 23, 2009

April Fool!!

Well, March has just over a week left to run before I reach what has become the most important day of my year. April 1st. Normally it is a day that passes without recognition, without any stress, without any problem. This year however it will be very different indeed. April 1st AKA April Fools Day - The most important day for this Jester.

It is the day that I unleash my full Jester style show on the world. (Well, the people of Buckingham anyway) - I decided that for my first Fool's day in the role of Buckingham Town Jester I needed something special to mark the occasion. So, I spoke to the staff at the Old Gaol and secured their covered courtyard room. There I shall perform my show for a strictly limited audience of up to 45 people. (I still have some tickets left)

Why? Well, it seems appropriate that those who wish to can actually spend their April Fool's Day with a genuine fool. An official fool none the less! (Proud moment) Also, I am going to be donating all of the money from tickets to the The Buckingham Heritage Trust and the Old Gaol. They are having a lot of work done in May to preserve the Gaol for years to come. I want to be a part of that process and help in any way that I can. Hopefully the money we raise will help the continued running of one of the most interesting and unique buildings in Buckinghamshire.

I love the Old Gaol. I think it is a fantastic building. Over the coming months it is my intention to appear within its walls more often and perform for various events. John, the Curator, has been very helpful to me and very supportive since I first became the Jester. He has freely offered his toilets for changing costume and general relief, opened his doors to shelter me from the rain when my market appearances become too soggy to continue and most importantly he has offered his tea making facilities to me. It is about time I give something back and thank him and his staff for their kindness and work in the community.

I have a three week season coming up in London where I shall be performing my Jester show daily. So this opportunity is for me to get a lot of the material tested. Fear not! It won't be shoddy, half complete, badly routined rubbish. I have worked hard in my studio over the last month to ensure that it is as good as it can be. It is now at the point where it cannot get better without input, reactions and real world timing.

For those of you that have booked tickets to see me already, thank you very much for supporting me and for supporting Buckingham Heritage at The Old Gaol. Hopefully the Mayor and his good lady wife will be in attendance too. I am working on getting various press from the local paper there too. It should be a good evening of magic and mirth, press coverage, refreshments and fund raising.

If you are in the area on April 1st (it's a Wednesday) please do come along. Let me know in advance so I can book your ticket in for you. It starts at around 6:30pm. There is free parking too! What more could you ask for?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Healing Laughter

For those of you who do not know, my weeks consist of doing shows in hospitals for sick children. I have been working for POD for a long time now and POD as a charity provide entertainment in hospital play rooms and wards for children at all levels of illness, from minor injury and illness right up to terminal cancer, They do about2000 shows a year in 141 different hospitals across the country. (Obviously I don't do all of those myself!)

When I tell people what I do as my 'day job' I am generally met by two stock responses. Firstly (and most frequently) people think that it is a fantastic idea and something worthwhile. (I am inclined to agree, although I am somewhat bias) There is however a small number of people that are a bit more sceptical and more 'purists' when it comes to medical treatment. I was talking to one lady about what I did and she replied "Don't you just get in the way?" to which I replied "No, I am a professional, I come in, I go to my designated area and I do my show and leave, if they need me to move I move, if they need me to set up somewhere different, that is what I do. No fuss, no hassle, just compliance on every level" or words to that effect (I don't think I was actually that direct) - anyway I quickly removed her naive ignorance and she actually came around to thinking that the idea was a good one.

I did meet another lady (why is it the middle aged female population seem to have an issue with fun?) and she was certain that although "nice" (I do hate that word) my role within the hospital did not actually serve any real purpose and the time could be much better spent actually doing therapy and treatment on the children instead. This took a lot more persuasion and I don't think I did a very good job. However, I have been thinking about it a lot today as I travelled home from Chelsea and Westminster Hospital.

Firstly, you cannot treat children every minute of every hour of every day. Sometimes it is not appropriate as drugs and medication need time to work, sometimes they need relief from the discomfort of the healing process and also they need to generally eat, sleep, go to the hospital school and allow the staff to treat the other sick children. So, in hospital, a lot of their day is actually spent waiting. There is only so much time can be occupied by watching TV or doing colouring in and painting and playing with the toys and jigsaws that people have donated to the hospital. I come in during the day, usually just after or just before lunch (when naturally no new treatments would be started so as not to interrupt the nourishment or so that the food has been processed before new medication is given) and perform for them. I spent 1 hour in each hospital, I do some magic, I make some balloons and I generally try and distract them from the pain they are in or the boredom they are experiencing.

Does it help? Yes, I am utterly convinced that laughter is good for you. It is so good to see the children smiling and laughing when I know they are (some of them) so ill. It is a good feeling that I am making their day a little more diverse and a little brighter. I remember once I was at Oxford JR Hospital and I performed for one little girl at her bedside. She was too ill to come down to the playroom and so I spent some time with her and her parents in the comfort of her own room. To start with she was very quiet and reluctant to join in with the magic (it was obvious that she was not at all well) but I carried on. I made my balloon animals and did my tricks and left. By the end of the routine she was joining in, smiling and at one point she even managed a little laugh. One of the nurses came over to me and said "Thank you so much, she has not said a word since she came into hospital two days ago" - it was an amazing feeling. Here was a little girl that was so ill and scared that she had not spoken for 2 days, not even to her own parents. Here was me, a complete stranger doing a silly job wearing a silly costume, coming in and breaking up the day and giving her something to smile about. As I was walking out of the door I heard her chattering away to her parents. Laughter had broken the cycle and she was obviously more upbeat than when I had arrived.

I suppose it is true within my own life too. If I am feeling ill or utterly exhausted but know I need to be somewhere or do something and need to get my energy level back up - I always turn to my collection of comedy DVDs and get cheered up by the likes of Michael McIntyre and Bill Bailey. I am lucky that I can do that in the comfort of my own bed and not away from my family in a hospital bed.

Laughter is very important. It can make us feel good, it can distract us from any pain we are suffering, it can connect us with others on a new level and it can make us feel relaxed and at ease. Laughter is a good thing. I am very pleased to be an exporter of it.

Please spare a thought for POD - they are a charity run totally off of the donations of the public. You can find out more about them and the work that they do at www.podcharity.org.uk - and if you feel the call you can donate online too. Make some children happy at your local hospital.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Modern Day Jesters

Who are the modern day Jesters?

Mr Lloyd is coming in with the questions at the moment. I really appreciate it as it gives me something to ponder and suggests that someone is interested in what I am scrawling onto these pages. Mr Lloyd actually asked this question a few days ago and I did not update my blog immediately as I was trying to actually formulate some sort of answer that both did the job of answering the question but one that I was also very happy with. So, what was that question posing the most elusive of answers? Who would be the Jesters of today? Hmm, whom could I Jester with, whom would wear the old cap'n'bells well. Has stand-up comedy taken over from where Jesters faded out.

It is a tricky question and one that I have been giving a lot of thought to. So, I need someone alive, in the public eye and amusing that would make a good Jester. I suppose we really have to look at the skills of the Jester before we decide whom is the modern embodiment of them. As a Jester I look for various aspects to appear in my act. 

I want it to be funny first and foremost. What is the point of a Jester if they do not make people laugh. I want it to be versatile, I don't just want to be doing magic in a costume. I want to incorporate other skills such as acting, music, mime and juggling.  I want the act to be accessible to all ages and cultures. Even if they don't understand what I say all the time for whatever reason, I want them to be able to visually follow what I am doing and be happy because of it. So, Funny, Versatile and Universal. 

My first thoughts obviously went to the greats such as Tommy Cooper and Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Laurel and Hardy. Those modern day clowns without the red nose. However it is sad that they have all since passed on and could no longer take their rightful place as Modern Jester. 

I think I have come up with a few that I find suitable. Let's see if you agree.

Rowan Atkinson
The man that bought Mr Bean and Blackadder to life. From excellent cameos as bumbling priests in Four Weddings and a Funeral to the camp perfectionist sales assistant in Love Actually. Atkinson is a modern day genius. (A word that is used far too often to describe the talents of any Tom, Dick or Harry but one that is fully suitable here) - Some of his early stand up material featured a lot of mime work. His invisible drums, his piano performance. Both fantastically crafted pieces of stage work that could be enjoyed by anyone. His mastery of accents, his facial expressions, his range of characters. Just when I thought I had seen the full range of his abilities (he mimed in Bean, he acted in Blackadder, he used accents and characters galore in his stand-up and sang for Comic Relief) he goes and suprises me by appearing in the West End in the demanding role of Fagin, more characterisation, more singing and a lot of dancing too. Reviews have been amazing and people have flocked to see him. Hardly suprising really. He is a performer but shy and retiring when he is out of costume. 

John Cleese
Another performer that has influenced me over the years has to be the lanky python, Mr Cleese. He definitely has funny bones, I believe he is a man you can just look at and find funny. His face does it. (That sounds a little cruel?)but he does have a funny features. He is very expressive with his eyes, his mouth and even the way his nose moves. Those long legs have amused us in various forms, from insane walking in The Ministry of Silly Walks to mock goose-stepping in Fawlty Towers. John Cleese is a natural comic, he is intelligent enough to make good use of his speech but also not reserved so that he cannot use his body as a (very funny) tool. It is a deadly combination of comedy class. Not only that be I believe he is a genuine English eccentric. There are not as many of those around as we believe but I think he is one of them. Also, he is not afraid to be occasionally shocking - his eulogy for Graham Chapman is a fine example of bad taste in good taste. The faces of the congregation as he swore profusely and said "Good Riddence" was classic.

Boris Johnson
Yes, I have included the Mayor of London on my list of modern day Jesters. Boris is often described in the media as a clown or a buffoon. If you look at the dictionary definition of Jester. buffoon and clown appear there too. I think there is a certain innocence about Boris which masks a razor sharp political mind and I think that is the closest we have to Jesters of olde. Often the olde Jesters were keen courtiers as well as Jesters and gained a huge amount of influence and power despite their appearance as foolish. Boris may appear foolish at times but he has indeed won a seat of extreme influence and power (And good on him I say) - When asked about the recent snow he came out with such naturally witty lines as "No one can deny it is the right quality just in the wrong quantity" and when challenged by Jeremy Clarkson about being a buffoon in public but clever below he replied with "You cannot ignore the distinct possibility that under the carefully constructed veneer of a buffoon there actually is a buffoon" (or words to that effect)  - Boris has a natural charm and charisma that means that people adore him and trust him with their city. No one could believe it when he became Mayor. Just like The Duke of Buckingham could not believe it when Archy the Jester became the most important foreign man in the Spanish court. The similarities are too numerous to ignore. (Also it seems very Jester-like to be reprimanded for riding a bicycle in City Hall!)

So there we are, three modern day Jesters in my mind. Atkinson for his high class of skill and many different abilities, Cleese for his attitude and his general eccentric nature and Johnson for striking similarities to the political games played by the Jesters of olde.

I hope that will suffice as an apt answer. If you have someone you think I should have included (or indeed you feel one of my trinity should be change or removed) please do let me know. I like a good discussion. If you cannot have totally free speech on a blog of a Jester, where can you, eh?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Out of the mouth of babes

Some time ago I used to work for a local party company. The way the company worked was to send two people to each party. One person would lead the games and generally run the party; the second would be there to support and also to face paint. They were a prolific party company and they were exceptionally busy. I was working at least six different shows most weekends of my young life. It really helped me get my feet in the water of a busy entertainment business.

Best of all, it took me all around the local counties, performing for a whole range of children from those of working class backgrounds to those of a more privileged existence. One party sticks in my mind in particular. I believe we were in High Wycombe performing at the party of a young six year old girl. It was the standard sort of party, many hyper children, lots of silly games and face painting galore.

One little boy was having his face painted. What he was going to be, monster, skeleton etc escapes me. But he gave me the best laugh I have ever had in my career to date. The table for the face painting was set up to my right, I always made sure that it was within my vision should any problems occur, that way I could step in or announce something over the PA system and generally act as support for the other entertainer – she in turn would do the same for me. Positioned so that she could keep an eye on the party from her position at the table.

A girl was happily dancing around quite close to the table and being the inquisitive young thing that she was she danced over to the boy getting his face painted to ask what he was going to be. The boy looked at her from foot to face before turning to Amanda (my support entertainer at the time) and saying – “Tell her to go away she is fat” – gesturing to the somewhat plump dancing girl.

Amanda stifled a laugh and promptly said “That isn’t very nice – don’t say that” in a genuinely warm but light reprimand.

The boy did not even miss a beat before coming back with the reply “My mummy told me to always tell the truth and that girl is VERY fat!” – You can’t fault that logic.

It is very hard to run a game of Musical Chairs when you are trying not to laugh through your microphone.

Ali Bongo - A man much missed

Ali Bongo

Magician and Magic Circle President

I would like to take the time to be a little bit more serious and talk about the wonderful Ali Bongo. It is with great sadness that I have to say that Ali Bongo passed away on Sunday morning at 9am. Paul Daniels broke the news to the magic world via Twitter.

Ali was a one off, he was a really remarkable man. When I was 12 years old and a member of the young magicians club I remember fondly meeting him at The Magic Circle HQ. He was very friendly, knew more about magic than anyone I had met and was so free and easy with his time and his advice.

Since he has died so many little stories about him have popped up online from magicians all over the country and all over the world. It just shows that he touched the lives of many magicians. Not only that, since I posted my status on Facebook on Sunday morning I received messages from people who were not in the magic fraternity - just regular people - and they loved him too. Watching him on TV in their childhood.

I will always remember the advice that Ali Bongo gave me about my presence on stage, I worked hard on it following that advice and it is because of him that I am a professional magician and entertainer now. He gave me many positive comments after my entrance exam to The Magic Circle and also offered me my first chance to perform at a Saturday Show at The Magic Circle. For all of his time, help and support I am very grateful. I will miss him and The Magic Circle will be a strange place to walk into tonight.

Yesterday I performed at The Magic Cavern in Barons Court. I broke the news to Richard when I arrived and he reacted in the same way as me. Ali had been an inspiration to him as well. I went out there yesterday to perform for Ali. Richard was kind enough to dedicate the show to him and I hope we did him proud. Ali loved magic and the magic world loved him in turn.

It's all for you Ali. All for you.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Practical Jester?

I have never been a very practical fellow. I am the first to admit that operating a washing machine escapes my knowledge, programming my DVD player so that it turns the film and the TV off after I have fallen asleep is only barely within my capability (I know, I know, it's one button pressed a series of times), I can change a tyre on my car - but that is it. Ask me to do other practical tasks like sewing buttons, ironing shirts or any form of D.I.Y and the answer will probably be a simple blank look.

However, I did not realise the depths of my practical ineptitude until this week. I was working at Adele's house, doing show promotion, writing and generally updating my web designer with images and such when I received an email. Adele. She wondered if I could pop to the shop and get some bits for the house - Bread, milk, loo rolls. The usual household items.

Then she dropped the bombshell. Could I get her some light bulbs for the kitchen. Light bulbs? But there are literally hundreds of combinations - push sockets, screw brackets, energy saving, big ones, small ones, different wattage, different colours, different shapes - long ones, thin ones, perfectly round ones. To someone like me that does not appreciate the complex nature of electric lights I was not aware just how difficult this task would be. I responded to the email saying that I would go. Bread? No problem, milk? Not an issue. Loo Rolls? Bring it on! But bulbs? What size do you need? Adele replied (promptly) saying I should take one with me. Take a bulb with me? To the shop? Carry it down the road and match it up like a pre-school puzzle? I am afraid I cannot do that. Even a fool has limits to how stupid he would look when not wearing his cap'n'bells.

So Adele came up with another plan. Write down the details. That seemed much more sensible. I got the pen, got the paper and began to search for the box the bulbs came in to make a note of their size, shape, colour etc etc etc. No box. I emailed Adele again. (At this point I am sure she was becoming even more annoyed with my foolish incompetence in light of the simplicity of the task - pun intended!) Adele told me to take the bulb out and read the writing. Is it just me that was blindly unaware that the manufacturers of bulbs write the details on the side of them? I had no idea. Writing on a bulb to me seemed madness! I know most of you reading this will wonder how I am able to even manage to log into my blog to update it if I cannot buy a bulb.

I have actually only purchased bulbs once in my life. I got a desk lamp to sit in the studio and purchased a nice bright bulb to go with it. Since it has been in the lamp - two things have happened.

1) The bulb has melted a hole in the plastic case of the lamp and destroyed the rigid integrity of the plastic meaning it crumbles and flakes in a yellow mess whenever the lamp is moved.

2) The bulb, while pointed downward, has managed to melt the cases of three Cd's so that they cannot even be opened.

I explained this to Adele, told her I was happy to guess at a bulb size and put it back in the light, but she may well return to a hole in the ground where her kitchen used to be.

Suffice to say - the kitchen light remains without bulb.

Tea for Jesters

Have you ever invited a jester, around for afternoon tea?
If you do, please remember they like biscuits, cakes and buns.
After you have fed them (they can't work on an empty tum!)
They will entertain you with tricks and japes and puns.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


Greetings all,

My esteemed friend, Mr Steve Lloyd, has asked a very interesting question. Where did the phrase tomfoolery come from and what is it actually all about? I have done a little bit of research and I think I may have found the answer.

In England, Tom, has always been a name used to describe people generally. For example in WWI and WWII the men in the trenches and on the front line were known as Tommys. We also have the phrase "Tom, Dick and Harry" which were used to describe anyone and everyone. (as well as the tunnels in Colditz) and other such phrases as "Tom Thumb" for small persons. Well, it is no surprise that Tomfoolery has similar origins.

Jesters were generally referred to as Tom Fool and over the years that has been changed to tomfoolery meaning someone that is foolish or something that causes mischief. So there we are Mr Lloyd, the origins of Tomfoolery for you. I have also discovered how other certain phrases and traditions have come from the time of the Jesters. I shall update again in the near future, but in the meantime if you have any questions about Jesting or anything of the like, let me know and I will do my best to answer for you.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Following ye olde red nose.

I don't have one of those typical stories where I left a high powered city career to take up entertainment, nor did I entertain at my own kids parties and listen to the advice of a neighbour who suggested to "go professional" - mainly because I have never had a real job or children of my own. I have always been an entertainer, if I am honest, I firmly believe that it is something that you are born to do. That phrase is banded around a lot - "A born entertainer" - I don't think it is anything that can be taught or learned. Improved through study and training, yes, but not learned, not from scratch. I consider myself to be exceptionally lucky that I have been born into one of the best professions in the world.

So, why did I decide to do the Jester gig? Well, one of my slightly geeky tendancies is toward history, especially when I can link it to my passion for magic and entertainment generally. I have always really enjoyed the middle ages and the medieval periods of English history and Jesters obviously played a massive part in that. It was a natural process to go from an interest in history to the history of the entertainment industry to Jesters. Some research led me to the links to The First Duke of Buckingham and Archy Armstrong, the King's Jester. A proposal to the Town Council and they agreed it would be a good idea. So the Jester of Buckingham was born.

I have found it a very natural character to slip into. I guess that there was perhaps a part of my personality that wanted to be one, I have always admired those that can clown and those that can amuse with silly antics, slapstick humour and wit, The Jester is the father of those traditions. To be one, an officially appointed Jester for the town of Buckingham, is a great honour and it is something that I am very proud of. I hope that in my time, serving the community in both charity work and public shows that I can raise some money, spread some joy and create some happiness along the way.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Salutations one and all

Good Evening everyone. Jester of Buckingham here.

I thought that it was about time I leapt out of the Middle Ages and into the new century by starting one of these blogs. I will be keeping you updated with all that is going on in the Jestering world, the shows I am doing, the places I am appearing and generally whatever thoughts cross my juggling-addled brain.

So, what is happening at the moment?

In about a week the brand spanking (oooerr!) new Jester website will be launched. It is all being kept top secret at the moment but I have high hopes! I hope that you like it too.

April Fool's day is fast approaching and to mark the passing of the best day in the English Calander (although as a professional fool I am slightly bias) I will be performing an intimate (ooooeerr again!) show in The Old Gaol in Buckingham. It is a strictly limited event and all for charity. So, if you fancy spending April Fool's Day with a genuine fool (and they don't get much more foolish I assure you!) then please make it known very soon indeed!

That is all for now. Back to the studio. A Jesters work is never done (but always fun!)